Four trends changing virtualization

Jamie Gruener highlights four trends that he says will change the storage virtualization landscape altogether.

The last time I wrote about storage virtualization, I got mail from a number of users that were dead-on by suggesting that I had not completely described all the vendors providing various forms of storage virtualization. Books written on this topic fail to fully do justice to this, so a short column won't fit the bill either. Well… the industry challenge remains defining virtualization, and determining where it best fits. Why beat a dead horse when so much has been written about this?

Turns out the year 2004 will be an interesting one for storage virtualization as a number of new industry initiatives change the way you the customer will deploy and leverage virtualization as part of your storage hardware management strategy. Four trends come to mind that change the storage virtualization landscape: intelligent switches that will do volume and file management, grid storage (hold your horses, I'll explain it), the growing convergence between virtualization tools and data management, and the pending integration of server and storage virtualization.

First off, the religious wars of where virtualization will reside as a technology are increasingly irrelevant. Some storage administrators want to use host-based approaches, others leverage array-based tools, and today there are a growing number of fabric-and switch-based tools that will do storage virtualization. It will be driven by customer preference. But then on the other side, there's been an explosion of digital content that drives the need for file virtualization and management tools that will give better views of files and directories. Many of these tools assist in the consolidation of multiple NAS platforms, and are increasingly used to assist with compliance/data retention requirements.

Getting back to the intelligent switch integration of virtualization (mostly volume management), customers need to consider if having volume management resident in the network is the right approach. There's a mix of different ways switch vendors are starting to deliver the functionality in their platforms. Mileage varies here on functionality, ease of deployment, and overall support for heterogeneous storage. However, as more products arrive in the market midyear and into 2005, customers should consider pilot deployments to see if this is a viable alternative to host-based virtualization, the most common volume management approach. I am cautious about this market segment because while there are inherent advantages to providing volume management in the network, early deployment models and initial lackluster customer interest are current market inhibitors.

A second emerging trend towards grid storage also will have implications for storage virtualization in 2004 and beyond. Only a few vendors so far have tipped their cards on this emerging category of storage, but storage virtualization either at the volume or file level will be central to most of these products. Grid storage weaves together modular storage systems, which share common virtualization (either volume or file management), management software, and availability/redundancy for data. Stay tuned for more vendor initiatives here in the next year, which will take a wide range of angles on deploying storage in a Lego-like deployment model.

Finally, it is important to note that storage virtualization has become an integrated component of data management tools. It also will increasingly be connected to server virtualization tools that manage server hardware and lifecycle management. For several years, a number of storage virtualization tools have taken on data management features. And, most recently in February, VERITAS released its Storage Foundation 4.0 that continues to add new features that will integrate with other VERITAS tools, including NetBackup. And, as more server and storage management tools start to blend and manage infrastructure jointly, customers will increasingly be able to bring a server online, provision new storage volumes and manage the server and storage collectively from a single set of products. This is starting to happen, but will take another 12 to 24 months to materialize with a large number of available products.

For more information:

Tip: How to select a virtualization vendor

Tip: How virtualization can work for you

Tip: Narrow your virtualization options

About the author: Jamie Gruener is a expert and the primary analyst focused on the server and storage markets for the Yankee Group, an industry analyst firm in Boston, Mass. Jamie's coverage area includes storage management, storage best practices, storage systems, storage networking and server technologies. Ask him your storage management questions today.

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